Baltimore's Reinvention Can Start Right Now. But What Would Success Be? | Opinion

Author's note: This is a follow-up to a piece I wrote last week on reinventing Baltimore.

How would we know if a successful Baltimore had been created?

Any analysis of a successful Baltimore should focus on outcomes and on the impact on the lives of Baltimoreans.

The most obvious five criteria are:

1. Safety

2. Introductory jobs—leading to better jobs

3. Education—including for those the system has already failed to educate

4. Health—both personal and public

5. Honest government—with transparent accountability and immediate consequences for corruption

However, since this is an outsider's view of success, there should be a robust debate among the citizens of Baltimore about whether this is the right definition of a successful Baltimore. Our goal should be to get a definition on which 80 percent or more of Baltimoreans can agree.

The challenge of converting Baltimore and Baltimoreans from the current dangerous, impoverished, undereducated system (which is trapped in a downward spiral) over to a successful Baltimore that can provide opportunity for all Baltimoreans to have good, healthy, safe, productive lives is an enormous undertaking.

Critically, this vision of success includes transforming the lives of those currently trapped in poverty, violence and lack of education. It will not be a success if we simply gentrify the city and attract successful people from outside while crowding out, marginalizing and displacing those who have suffered through the failures of the traditional system.

This comprehensive goal of a successful Baltimore and successful Baltimoreans requires thinking through macro and micro policies. We must develop better approaches for individuals to maximize their chances of personal success and better approaches for the city as a whole.

Starting with President Lyndon Johnson, the War on Poverty, and the Great Society in 1965, we have spent 54 years and more than $25 trillion trying to solve the challenge of poverty in America. In many ways, those dollars and programs have made things worse. As Marvin Olasky made clear in The Tragedy of American Compassion, the assumptions and principles of the Great Society theorists violated every key lesson earlier reformers had learned in 150 years of effort among the urban poor. Wrong principles applied with more money simply leads to more expensive failures and more powerful bureaucracies dedicated to continuing the failures.

Inventing a successful Baltimore will require a profoundly different approach from the government bureaucracies and well-meaning but ineffective philanthropic approaches of the last six decades.

Here are five key principles for inventing a successful Baltimore:

1. Define the outcomes which must occur to succeed.

2. Measure outcomes not inputs.

3. You get what you inspect not what you expect: Set short measurable metrics and monitor each implementation on a weekly or monthly basis.

4. When things aren't working, change. We have over a half century experience with public and private bureaucracies failing. Breaking through is going to require a lot of changes and new approaches.

5. Focus on saving the people—not the bureaucrats.

In this process, we must recognize that there will be many personal, institutional and ideological failures and mistakes. We are trying something big and complex, so we must be resolved to accept a certain amount of these failures.

However, there will be more potential successes than failures. An amazing number of new technologies, systems and capabilities are evolving all around us. Inventing a successful Baltimore should be empowered by these systems from the start. By integrating the desired outcomes and the new technologies into new measurable behaviors, we can empower the people of Baltimore to create dramatically better lives much faster than most experts believe.

This focus on outcomes rather than inputs–and on new integrated approaches to making Baltimore great again–will require inventing a lot of new solutions. Much of this activity will make the traditional, established (but failed) system uncomfortable. This will create opposition from the old system and institutions. We must be prepared to deal with this opposition (there will be a lot).

The more inventing a successful Baltimore involves citizen activism rather than bureaucratic control, the more hostile and threatened the professional bureaucrats will feel. Serious citizen engagement and involvement is inherently a challenge to systems predicated on the Progressive Era model of "smart" bureaucracies taking care of passive, ineffective citizens.

It will take a great deal of what I call cheerful persistence to stay focused on this great challenge. Every day will bring new crises, opponents, and challenges. Only by staying focused on inventing a successful Baltimore as measured by the improved lives of citizens can we hope to breakthrough.

Baltimore empty street
A street in Baltimore on July 28. Spencer Platt/Getty


The smartphone may be the greatest social organizing tool of our time. However, because it shifts too much power to the user and away from institutional controls there has been enormous resistance to even thinking about how to use it.

Imagine that every citizen in in Baltimore, beginning at a very young age, had a smartphone with a specific app designed for Baltimore. Imagine that all public services were available through the app (as one county commissioner told me, his goal was to have everyone online instead of in line).

As part of the Baltimore entrepreneurial, small business job creation effort everything a potential small business owner has to know and every form they have to fill out would be on the Baltimore App so they could do it at night and on weekends at their convenience instead of the bureaucrats' convenience (see Hernando DeSoto's The Other Path for how city bureaucracies kill small businesses).

Since every smartphone has a video capability, citizens could be encouraged to video crimes in their neighborhoods and submit the video with confidentiality to the police. (This is complimentary to the current model of capturing police abuse and sharing it with the public on social media).

Public health implementation (including monitoring diabetes, sickle cell anemia, asthma, kidney dialysis, pregnancy, early child rearing, hemophilia, etc.) could be integrated into the Baltimore App. This could create an education and monitoring system and (with citizen permission) an unparalleled database for public health.

A great deal of learning for all ages can be integrated into smartphone systems with and without mentors ( is an example). The business community could integrate online job descriptions with online learning to help Baltimoreans of all ages acquire the skills and knowledge to be hired. Mike Rowe (host of the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs) makes the point that a two-year program in welding can lead to earning $160,000 a year without student loan debt.

A key to inventing a successful Baltimore is going to be integrating learning at all ages (so we don't write off the thousands who have been cheated by the current system) with jobs and income opportunities. They must be mutually reinforcing to succeed.

Baltimore city government transparency and accountability should be built into the Baltimore App so every citizen feels he or she can have access to what is going on—and why it is going on.

The possibilities are virtually endless once the concept of a universal smartphone culture with a city app is accepted as a practical possibility.


Beginning with the Progressive Era around the beginning of the 20th century, we accepted a model that said citizens were limited and untrustworthy, but trained professionals could be organized into efficient, knowledgeable bureaucracies to practice "scientific management" of society. This model marginalized parents and put teachers at the center of education. Then it put bureaucrats to monitor the teachers. Then the model marginalized citizens as law enforcers and restricted crime suppression to paid professionals. Then the paid professionals grew isolated from the communities they were supposed to protect. Finally, we were shocked to discover that bureaucracies could be corrupted, incompetent, inefficient and insufficiently knowledgeable to wield the power we were giving them.

What if we returned power and responsibility to the citizen and made the paid professional the supporter rather than the controller of citizens?

For instance, historically, sheriffs had relatively few deputies. When major crimes occurred, citizens were deputized. In much of America, even today, volunteer firefighters play a major role in protecting homes and offices.

What if citizens were directly incentivized to be helpful and accountable? What if parents could earn an achievement fee if their child entered school with a set of skills?

People describe the number of foreign languages in our schools as an enormous problem. Why isn't it an enormous opportunity? What if each child was paired with another, and one learned English while the English-speaking student learned a new language as well? In the process, they might also break down a number of other barriers.

In poor neighborhoods, why not pay modest amounts to students to clean up and fix up their schools and neighborhood playgrounds and parks?

In high-crime areas, why not develop citizen watch programs that are trained, paid modest stipends, and integrated with the police force? We may not be able to flood the streets with blue (to use the British term for controlling riots), but we could swamp the neighborhoods with citizens. The citizen watch members would not carry weapons and would not have any power of arrest. However, they could be trained to use their smart phones to record crimes, and they could be given a sense of obligation to call in crime immediately.

In public housing projects, why not empower (including modest payments) the residents to clean up and police their own communities? As a further step, why not consider a sweat equity investment by which the most energetic and enthusiastic residents could begin to build some ownership rights (a concept Jack Kemp championed 30 years ago)?

Why not revisit some of the New Deal programs to develop a citizen-centered approach to clearing up the estimated 17,000 plus buildings currently derelict in Baltimore?

Larry Hogan
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is interviewed on Fox News on August 1. John Lamparski/Getty


This entire approach to inventing a new successful Baltimore is going to take a lot of social entrepreneurs and inventors. Today, there are too many barriers to entry and to getting resources.

We need the equivalent of angel investing in social startups.

We need to cut out most of the red tape especially for very small programs.

The number of efforts in Baltimore which have failed in recent years—because it is just too hard for enthusiastic citizens to master the arcane rules and regulations of the professional welfare bureaucracy—is heartbreaking.

All levels of government—federal, state, and local—should cut out every possible regulation and eliminate as much red tape as possible both for small business startups and for social entrepreneurs.

These are bold, out-of-the box approaches—but what have we to lose?

Given the human cost of the current system, isn't it worth the risk to try something dramatically, boldly new?

President Donald Trump and Governor Larry Hogan should create a joint "New Baltimore" project and bring together the U.S. Congress and the state legislature to change the laws and open up the system to get something really dramatic done.

Many citizens of Baltimore have no hope. This is because they watch the same bureaucrats and politicians go through the same motions and say the same words—but nothing changes.

This would be real change—and it needs to happen.

Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich is the chairman of Gingrich 360, the host of the Newt's World podcast and author of the New York Times best-sellers Understanding Trump and Trump's America.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.